UTAH UTES

Dan Wetzel Discusses Big Ten Expansion Reports, Options For Utah Utes

Aug 3, 2023, 11:44 AM | Updated: 1:14 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – All eyes are on conference realignment and the Pac-12 today in what has been termed a “fluid situation” by Yahoo Sports columnist Dan Wetzel.

Wetzel joined DJ and PK Thursday morning to discuss the precarious situation that surrounds the Pac-12, Arizona schools, Utah, Big Ten and Big 12 as realignment rumors hit a fever pitch once more.

As Wetzel poignantly points out, what is true one minute in this ever-evolving story may not be true the next minute. We’ll dive into his conversation with DJ & PK while dishing up some of the conversations I’ve had over the past 24 hours. This story is much deeper and more complex than has been given credit so far.

A ‘Fluid Situation’ Unfolds In Conference Realignment Saga

Things began heading toward what has felt like a doomed existence for the Pac-12 last week when Colorado voted to move back to the Big 12. That feeling was expounded further when Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff and the remaining CEO group went over a media deal plan this past Tuesday, but no real results stemmed from it.

Add in Arizona planning a second board of regents meeting for Thursday night and the Big Ten reportedly ramping up their vetting efforts in preparation for a potential downfall of the Pac-12 and you have a whole mess of scenarios to sort through.

“It’s fluid, it’s hard to write these stories because they have four presidents meeting with the Big Ten and they are looking at the expansion options,” Wetzel said. “That’s a big step. If the Big Ten wants to expand, they’ll expand, but they haven’t decided anything. They haven’t come to a conclusion, and they are waiting to see what happens to the Pac-12.”

All Eyes On The Pac-12, Arizona

So, what is happening with the Pac-12? Again, as Wetzel pointed out, it’s fluid and, at least according to conversations I’ve had in the past 24 hours or so, has changed a few times.

As of last night, it seemed like a foregone conclusion the Arizona schools were out the door and on their way to the Big 12. It also was trending that Utah would be right behind them. As of this morning, the conversations have changed a tad, but are contingent on what the Arizona schools ultimately choose to do.

One contact said this morning that the Arizona schools may be back on track with the Pac-12. A different contact earlier reported to me that Apple really wants this deal to go through and is pulling out all the stops, including trying to get a linear partner on board to sweeten the deal for the Pac-12 and it might be enough to entice the Arizona schools to wait it out another 5-7 years.

“Everyone in the Pac-12 is looking at Arizona and wondering what they are going to do. Is Arizona going to bolt? That could be any minute, right? They could head off to the Big 12 or they could stay and sign that deal,” Wetzel continued. “Nine schools remain, and you add San Diego State and you’re off to the races. What if Arizona goes, but Arizona State doesn’t? Then you have eight teams that want to stay, is that enough for the Big Ten to step in and take Oregon and Washington? If Arizona stays and Utah doesn’t want to go, or the Big 12 can’t take them, then there is another hurdle where everybody stays and adds San Diego State and SMU or Boise State and you’re off, you’re fine. There are just so many trip points here where everything can change.”

What Are The Odds Of Pac-12 Survival?

Interestingly enough, Wetzel has the Pac’s rate of survival above 0 percent but not above 50 percent. This also goes along with some of what I’ve heard over the past few hours. There is a chance, albeit small, that the remaining Pac members get through this.

It will come down to Arizona deciding whether the extra $10 million or so the athletic department will allegedly get in the Big 12 is worth some of the costs of moving out of their student and alum imprint and the benefits the university as a whole gets from their academic partnerships in the Pac.

If the answer for Arizona is “yes, it is worth it.” Other dominos are likely to fall. If the answer is “no” the Pac may live to fight for another round.

“I wouldn’t put it at above 50 percent that the remaining schools sit there and sign this TV deal and say, ‘we’re going to do this, we’re going to stay together’, but it’s not 0 percent,” Wetzel said. “There is definitely a chance that this goes by as a temporary scare to the system. We’ll see. Generally, when there is money, everybody goes for the most money, but it’s not 0% that the Pac-9 I guess bans together and decides they will be fine for a few years and sees how this plays out. Now, call me in five years, we’ll see, or call me next year and we’ll see, but for this point and time, it’s still very fluid.”

What About Utah?

As many are aware, the Utes have seen astronomical growth over the past five or so years with no signs of slowing down. There is belief from the fans, belief from the coaches/players, and people inside the administration that they are just scratching the surface of what the University of Utah can be not only on the athletic side, but the academic side as well.

Many of my conversations with those willing to talk have reflected that thought. There is confidence there. Utah feels they belong in the upper echelon and regardless of what happens will continue to work toward that goal.

Because of that belief, there has been a lot of work put in from Utah to not only try to save the Pac, but also potentially position themselves for what feels like an inevitable move to a P2 format in college athletics. I’ve been told Utah has pulled out all of the stops to try and make it happen in this potential round of realignment, but are still a few years out from inclusion, which is also reflected in what Wetzel had to say.

 

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“It’s unfortunate for Utah, which is amazing because, across the board they probably have the best athletic department left and certainly one of the best 1, 2 football programs left,” Wetzel said. “I think this decision is going to play out and Utah is going to have to know what they are going to do. They are going to either be sitting there realizing there is no Pac-12 left and go to the Big 12 or the Arizona schools are going to stay and the Big Ten isn’t going to act. They’ll sign a deal, keep building their program and try to enjoy the next four-five-year period with the College Football Playoff and build up.”

“The one thing Utah has done – every one of these schools has panicked – if it gets down to 40 teams, and I don’t think it ever will, Utah will never be in it and there isn’t much they can do,” Wetzel continued. “Other than that, at this point, they aren’t going to play major college sports without the University of Utah. They have done so much to build up their program. Think back to when the team went 12, 13-0? Urban Meyer, Alex Smith- they were ranked 6th in the country. Zero respect for the program and it was ridiculous. They were sixth in the AP Poll and unbeaten. Now, what they have done, built up and the success that they’ve had- they are an attractive candidate going forward somewhere. However this shakes out, they are going to be somewhere. If they get four or five more years of continuing to build that brand, having people around the country get to know them on TV- ‘hey, Utah is on, I want to watch’- maybe some guy watching in Cleveland, that’s what you try to do. That’s the hope for Utah, but ultimately, I think this decision gets made for Utah.”

Michelle Bodkin is the Utah Utes Insider for KSLsports.com and host of both the Crimson Corner Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and The Saturday Show (Saturday from 10 a.m.–12 p.m.) on The KSL Sports Zone. Follow her on TwitterInstagram, and Threads: @BodkinKSLsports

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Dan Wetzel Discusses Big Ten Expansion Reports, Options For Utah Utes